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Beth Ann Fennelly's Open House

Beth Ann Fennelly's Open House

By Joseph Nichols, Graduate Assistant, Bluegrass Writers Studio ​On January 3rd, 2014, poet Beth Ann Fennelly and her husband (and author) Tom Franklin will be at the downtown Lexington Hilton, reading from their novel, The Tilted World. The duo will be two of the superstar guests appearing at the Bluegrass Writers Studio MFA Winter Residency, which takes place from Jan. 2nd thru Jan. 12th at the hotel.​ ​As a graduate student focusing on poetry, I read Fennelly's book Open House – Poems. This blog post, then, is my attempt to write an unbiased critique of that collection, though my main predicament in doing so is veering away from the fan boy diction that screams for release. Midway through perhaps the third section of the first poem, I was making enough noise that my Olive Garden waitress had started giving me dirty looks. Overheard exclamations may or may not have included “Oh my God, this is amazing!" or “How is she doing this line after line after line?” ​The collection is split into compartmentalized sections, like rooms in a house. I hadn’t even crossed the threshold of “The Room of Dead Languages” before I was encountering lines such as “The irony of metaphor/ you are closest to something/ when naming what it is not” and “We speak barest when we barely/ speak – love letters from the foreigner/ before the invention of cliché." As I proceeded from one room to another, the heart of the author laid bare and accessible, the emotions evoked by the poet’s words were palpable. From the intellect walking that first room to the tangible pain haunting “The Room of Echoes," or the honest passion and love (two words I do not throw around lightly these days) trembling in “The Room of Everywhere," Fennelly’s speakers had hijacked my every thought and breath. ​Despite my proclamations of grandeur, Olive Garden did not decide to throw me out in the Kentucky snow. Had they done so, however, I likely wouldn’t have noticed; I left warmed, inside and out, by the brutal openness of Fennelly’s House. ​In his forward, David Baker, series judge and poetry editor for The Kenyon Review, says “where George Herbert shaped his literary architecture into a holy temple, and where E. A. Poe peered through the smudged windows of the House of Usher to find a decaying subconscious, this exciting new poet throws open all her doors to admit whoever and whatever is in shouting range.” As I begin preparing for the residency, I can only hope Baker was not merely waxing metaphorical; come January, it will be difficult not to resemble those adulating Beatles fans of days long past.

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Kristen Thompson

Published on December 12, 2013

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